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Eightball #23
By Daniel G. Clowes
Published by Fantagraphics Books; $7.00 USD

As the revelation came to him, the critic laughed. Of course! So obvious! Clowes, you ingenius bastard.

Eightball #23 is a big, big comic -- tabloid sized, packed wall-to-wall with drawings and colour in a style that I've seen referred to as Horror Vacui, which seems to presume a need on the part of the artist to fill every bit of space with something. Occupying the entirety of the issue, "The Death Ray" is a claustrophobic bit of horror, Clowes's most twisted psychological portrait yet (!), and I laughed when the revelation came to me.

The dimensions of this giant-sized issue serve a very specific purpose. While the previous issue, Clowes's landmark Eightball #22, was bigger than previous Eightball issues, it still was close to normal in its dimensions, fitting quite comfortably into a Golden Age bag and board (or so I am told, er, ahem). This new issue, which is without doubt one of the best comics to be released this (or any) year, is just freakin' huge. Holding it in my hands, immersing myself in the largeness of its images, I felt once again like, like...

I laughed. I laughed out loud. Holding Eightball #23 in your hands and turning its pages, so many of which recall the customs and conventions of decades of superhero comics (including a magnificently awkward two-page Kirbyesque spread), an adult reader cannot help but be returned "to those golden days of yesteryear." Clowes, ever ready to use the reader's nostalgia like an arctic shit-knife against his own expectations, has constructed this issue so that anyone reading it will subliminally feel like a child. Turning these oversized pages, you're 7, 8, 9, 10 years old again. Everything is big, bold, bright, in your face. Face front, true believers! Who says this isn't the Clowes Age of Comics?

"Holy. SHIT." I sent that off in e-mail to Sean Collins, whose review of this issue appeared last week. At the moment, he's the only guy I know who's also read this issue, and once you finish it, you're gonna wanna talk about it, in the same way #22 prompted so much discussion. I imagine it was like this in the 1960s when Bob Dylan would release a new record. All us admiring intellectuals sit around smoking...something...and discussing the import and myriad interpretations of the latest epistle from the greatest genuis of our generation. Look, I've tried to resist this understanding, but here it is: No one does comix better than Dan Clowes. There. It's out there. I said it, and you have to live with it. Choke on it, I don't give a fuck. THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS.

Of course we want in to How He Does It. I'd imagine Clowes starts backward. You don't write something this twisted and dark and present it as something this superficially bright without knowing exactly where you're going. Like a master parallel parker, Clowes performs the seemingly difficult with ease, and just like that master parallel parker, he must have started in reverse.

It starts with the sickness. Andy is so fucking sick. At the end of the story, you'll meet (after hearing much about her) Dusty, maybe she's Andy's girlfriend. Maybe she's not. But she doesn't want to talk about Andy like David Bowie didn't want to talk about Judy in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me:

"Well now, I'm not gonna talk about Judy. In fact, we're not gonna talk about Judy at all, we're gonna keep her out of it."

I'd imagine Dusty doesn't want to talk about Andy because on some level, she is the most informed and intelligent character in the story. She gets Andy, and therefore she gets the fuck outta Dodge. Because frankly, to know Andy is to place yourself in grave danger. I mean, Pappy talks about Andy as best he can, and the only hint we're given about his fate is a subtle change in the colour of the last panel he appears in. The colours are important here. Pay attention.

Clowes first conceived the sickness, he must have. The sick, writhing dissatisfaction that is so uniquely American; only people that have it this good could be so outraged by the slights Andy suffers. Clowes's work is All-American, informed by our cultural cheese and spitting it back up as subversive eye candy. Clowes constructs the issue much like the previous one, deceptively, artifically and yet organically separating The Moments of Andy into discreet things very much like individual comic strips. Clowes fully mines the possibilities inherent in his profound understanding of the psychopathology of the vast majority of American superhero comics readers -- he is the master of the arctic shit-knife that is a keen insight into the "tropes," the traditional ways of presenting American superhero comics. It's all here, effendi! The origin story, the sound effects. Ooh, the sound effects!

He takes a good long time to get to it -- the bottom of page 30. If you're really reading the story, that one panel -- POP -- is the most horrifying thing Clowes has yet committed to paper. And God damn it, he is in such fine control of every element of the issue, that he knows exactly what its impact is. The key moment in a story literally constructed of nothing but key moments. Horror. Horror.

"This is what they want," Warren Elis declared as he resigned himself to the inevitable a few years ago. Instinctively understanding that writing superhero comics is what he does best -- The Authority, Planetary -- Ellis despaired that the majority of people who buy comics and support their local comics shops, want nothing more than to be comforted by the type of shit Geoff Johns can squeeze out in his deep and dreamless sleep. Superhero shit. Ellis can be a gifted craftsman in ways Johns never will, but he just isn't sharp enough to envision and wield the arctic shit-knife. Clowes is. "If this is what you want," he seems to say, "Come and get it." The blade feels so warm and comforting as it slides into your gut. The shit feels right at home.

This is a superhero story. It must be, look, there's a superhero now. The Death-Ray is here to protect us all. "You've got a friend in old Andy." Yeah, you sure do. Let that friend comfort and embrace you and be by your side through all the days of your life, fanboy. Let him swallow you whole and drag you right down to the bottom of the endless abyss you crave. Let the shit-knife do its work. Then let it melt inside you, just a little more shit. There's plenty of room.


-- Alan David Doane

The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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